School house rocks the vote

CNJ Staff Photo: Liliana Castillo Desiree Barraza fills in her name on a voter registration card in Kelly Fontanilla’s fifth grade class at James Bickley Elementary school.

By Liliana Castillo: CNJ Staff Writer

The fourth-grade classroom looked different today. On each of the miniature desks sits a white laptop. In front of each laptop, the students sat anxiously waiting for permission to touch them.

But before they could, each student pulled a slip of paper with a name on it from a plastic bag. In the bag were four names: Joe Biden, John McCain, Barack Obama and Sarah Palin.

For their lesson, Gwen Del Toro’s fourth-grade class at James Bickley Elementary School researched the presidential candidates and their running mates.

“It’s important for them to understand the process. It’s not just a popularity contest,” Del Toro said.

Del Toro said that her class is at the beginning of their lessons about the election. As the election nears, Del Toro said her students will learn vocabulary words connected with the election and will research the issues that the candidates talk about.

“It’s a big event. It’s all over the newspapers and TV. The people that will be in office will shape their future,” Del Toro said.

Kelly Fontanilla has also incorporated the election into her lessons for her fifth-grade class at James Bickley.

One day, Fontanilla’s students discussed how to qualify to vote and filled out a voter registration form.

Fontanilla’s students have researched the background of candidates and looked into where the candidates stand on the issues.

During the morning announcements, students from her class read facts about the candidates over the loudspeaker.

Todd Morris, the school’s principal, said he thinks teaching the students about the election process is a good idea.

“Our teachers have done a great job about keeping it balanced. There’s no bias to it,” he said. “Our one voice as an American is to vote. It’s important that they understand the importance of voting.”

Morris said he knew the information was hitting home when he was walking down the hall and a student turned around and told her friend, “Well, McCain likes to talk about performance pay for teachers.”

“Even through the announcements, it’s getting through,” he said.

The school will hold a mock election Nov. 3. Morris, who was a principal at two schools in Portales before becoming the principal of James Bickley, said that the last election was also incorporated into classes. But that this election is historic.

“Either way, it’s bigger than a regular election. We could have the oldest president, the first African-American president or the first female vice president,” he said. “Each vote is a piece of history.”